by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
Whatever might be said about Lloyd Douglas’s contribution to the life of Luther Place Memorial Church, this much is certain: the time he spent in Washington, DC was good for him. These were the years of President William Howard Taft, the “first motoring president.” The Wright Brothers came to town during these years and flew their plane around the Washington Monument. The world was changing, and Lloyd Douglas had a ringside seat.
His daughters said this years later:
As time went on our parents took courage and stepped from behind the protection of their brownstone front, and began to take in the contemporary scene. What innocents they must have been, coming from the small towns of the Middle West where the neighbors knew what time they raised the blinds in the morning and when their lights went off at night, and the very air they breathed was filtered through the stained glass windows of the church.
In Washington their comings and goings were not so closely supervised. They sat in the peanut gallery and thrilled to famous actors and actresses in the plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen. They went to concerts and lectures and spent long hours in the art galleries. ‘We had been to college, but we discovered we were very ignorant.’Virginia Douglas Dawson and Betty Douglas Wilson, The Shape of Sunday: An Intimate Biography of Lloyd C Douglas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952), pp. 67-68.
Douglas also wrote some short stories. He had expressed an interest in fiction while he was pastor at North Manchester, Indiana, just out of seminary. In his scrapbook is an announcement about forming a fiction writing group. We aren’t given any indication how well-attended this group was, or whether anything came of it, but it indicates the fact that he was thinking, even then, about writing fiction. Among his papers at Bentley Library are a few short stories he managed to write while in Washington, DC. They were never published. He used a pen name: Lloyd Edgington. “Harold” was a story about a college freshman who needed to learn some manners, and “Maitland House” was a story about mistaken identity, as a young man becomes attracted to a girl he believes is blind. In both cases, his characters are young people, and that also seems to be the audience he had in mind for these stories.
It was while he was in Washington that Douglas got into the military, as the chaplain of a local regiment. It gave him a chance to ride a horse again – something he hadn’t done since he was a boy, and that had been with “a country horse with a wide experience at the plow, but unfamiliar with polo,” as he later wrote to a friend. But it also initiated him into the brotherhood of those who had worn the uniform, and that helped him everywhere he went in the years that followed. He and his horse were involved in the burials of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as other official events. He enjoyed it immensely, and the Washington papers gushed about the young pastor of Luther Place appearing at these occasions astride his steed.
He continued to be heavily involved in two young people’s organizations – Christian Endeavor and the YMCA – just as he had been in his earlier pastorates. But even in this case, Washington opened new horizons for him. It was in the nation’s capital that he met representatives from the Y’s headquarters, and they were impressed with him. In those days the Young Men’s Christian Association was first and foremost an evangelistic organization and only secondarily committed to athletics. And people in the top leadership at the YMCA had their sights set on Douglas.
To read the local papers, you would have thought that Lloyd Douglas had a long, successful career ahead of him in Washington, DC. His congregation seems to have thought so, too. That’s why it came as such a shock when he stood before them one morning in July 1911, not quite two years after having arrived, and announced his resignation.
(To be continued…)
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